This article will be an attempt to describe the multitude of timelines featured in Heroes, a show with a heck of a lot of time travel and prophecy aversion. As of 1/23/2010, there are twenty-nine (or seventy-four; see below) different timelines in the Heroes story – wow! Hopefully this can help people (like me) wrap their brains around the complex plot. Note that this will not cover any alternate timelines that may be featured in the graphic novels, as I haven’t read all of them and I don’t have a good grasp on their goings-on. This is complicated enough already.
The first timeline is implicit, never actually referenced on the show. We know it must exist, though, because there has to be a way things went before time manipulation took place. Heroes’ time travel isn’t based in a causal loop like Terminator, more like Back to the Future. In this timeline, Adam was Takezo Kensei, and he performed things more or less the way the legends have it, allowing for storytellers’ exaggerations. Hiro Nakamura grew up on these legends; however, he did not time travel into the future to witness the explosion as he does on the show. Isaac was killed by Sylar, and there was no Hiro to see his prophetic art. The explosion went off, destroying New York, but there’s no way to know if it was Sylar, Peter, or even Ted. I have a hunch it was Sylar, though.
The second timeline is one we see on the show. Hiro Nakamura time travels into the future in New York. He grabs Isaac Mendez’ comic book, and then sees Isaac Mendez’ body. He is questioned by American police, who confirm that Hiro vanished off the face of the Earth on the day he time traveled into the future. Hiro witnesses the explosion, and jumps back. As he returns, the new timeline begins.
The third timeline begins with Hiro, who returns from the future with a mission. Hiro and Ando go to America, and they start to participate in the goings-on in America. Hiro bumps into Nathan, etc. The difference from what we see on the show is that Peter never gets a visit from a future version of Hiro to give him the mission “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” Peter is unable to convince Mohinder of his ability, and Peter does not run back to Isaac’s afterward, nor does he give Hiro the message. They run off on their own threads, which are pretty much unknown to us. Sylar successfully takes Claire’s ability at homecoming. Someone, presumably Sylar, explodes in New York. Hiro decides to make a change in the timeline, analyzes the events, and decides to contact Peter in the subway to give him the message to save Claire, as well as uniting multiple stray heroes. Hiro does this, and in doing so causes the timeline to skew into a tangent to create an alternate timeline.
We see this fourth timeline form in the season one episode “Hiros”, when a version of Hiro from the future (who speaks English and carries a sword) catches Peter in a time bubble (I guess) and gives him the message “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” This Hiro returns to his own time, which is in another timeline and not in the one he came from (more on that later). We see the progression of this timeline on the show. Characters meet up, focusing on the same problem. Noah gets the heads up about Claire. Hiro and Ando eat at the Burnt Toast Diner. Hiro meets Charlie and falls for her, but then Sylar kills her. He decides to save her, and travels back in time to warn her.
The fifth timeline is thus created as Hiro mistakenly arrives five months ago. He calls himself in Japan – Greato Scotto! He spends time romancing Charlie, trying to convince her to run away with him. She reveals that she has a blood clot in her brain that’s killing her, so if she’s going to die anyway, Hiro’s attempts to save her are futile. Hiro returns to the present, where Sylar’s assault of Claire failed because of Peter and the Company. Sylar escapes, and goes on the hunt once more. Sylar kills his mother and gets the idea to become president. At some point, Sylar gets Candice’s power of illusions. The good guys confront Sylar, Ando getting killed. Peter blows up New York, but heals. Sylar takes Nathan’s place and becomes president, blaming the figure of Sylar for the explosion and setting up a witch hunt for people with abilities. Hiro becomes a terrorist/vigilante who decides to analyze the events that led up to the dystopia and then alter them at a specific point. He finds what he’s looking for, time travels into the past… and is swallowed up by mindboggling time travel laws, presumably merging into the Future Hiro from the second timeline as he returns to his present.
A sixth timeline is created when Hiro and Ando from somewhere in the middle of the fifth timeline (episode “.07%”) time travel into the future and meet up with Hiro’s 2011 counterpart. The Future Hiro knows he affected the timeline, but sees that the world is still in jeopardy and has to try to remember what happened in the timeline he brought about (the fourth/fifth). 2006 Hiro and Ando affect the future, causing things to happen differently than they otherwise would. Hiro and Ando return to their present, thus creating the seventh timeline.
The seventh timeline is the result of Hiro and Ando trying to avert the dystopian future they witnessed. The two stalk Sylar, and Hiro tries to decapitate him. Sylar, overcome with emotion, gives him a chance, but when Hiro hesitates, Sylar decides he deserves to kill Hiro. Hiro escapes, but his Kensei sword is broken in the fight. When they get a samurai sword restorer to fix it, Hiro’s father accepts Hiro as a worthy hero and trains him to fight. Hiro also influences Nathan by yelling at him that he’s a villain. At the big showdown with Sylar, Hiro runs him through with Ando’s sword. Sylar uses his last strength to hurl Hiro through the air toward a building, and Hiro time travels away to Feudal Japan. Peter starts to explode, but Nathan comes to fly him to that part of the stratosphere where nuclear detonations have no effect, thus saving New York (and the world).
However, Hiro’s time travel creates now an eighth timeline. Arriving in 1671 Japan, Hiro winds up in the middle of a battle. He attempts to save who he thinks is his hero Takezo Kensei, only to have it turn out to be the patsy Adam hired to take the arrows for him. Inadvertently messing up history, Hiro resolves to fix things. In doing so, he accidently falls for Yaeko, the woman destined to marry Adam. He stays longer than he should, and causes Yaeko to fall for him. Feeling betrayed, Adam swears revenge and becomes a villain. Hiro fixes things as best as he can, and returns to his time. Adam eventually loses faith in humanity entirely, and decides to murder the human race. He helps create the Company, and uses it to create a virus to wipe out humanity. The Company locks him up, but he escapes with Peter’s help. Peter helps him release the Shanti virus, and a massive outbreak kills 93% of the world’s population.
The ninth timeline is created after Hiro returns to the present. Finding his father dead, Hiro goes back in time to save his father. The two bond a bit at Hiro’s mother’s funeral, and Hiro interacts with his younger self. Hiro returns things to have the same effect as before, but the events themselves have changed.
The tenth timeline is created when Peter (after the Haitian took away his memories and sent him to Ireland) accidentally time travels with Caitlin to the dystopian future in which the outbreak took place. They’re rushed to quarantine, and Caitlin is deported. Angela helps Peter get some of his memories back, and Peter returns to his present, creating a divergence that becomes the twelfth timeline. Presumably Caitlin is lost forever.
The eleventh timeline is created when Hiro decides to time travel back to certain events just to watch them. He observes only, but his presence causes the timeline to change. With new knowledge, Hiro returns to the present to stop Adam.
The twelfth timeline involves Peter wanting to stop the dystopian outbreak. Adam tricks him for the most part, but Peter eventually listens to his friends and stops the outbreak, destroying the Shanti virus. Hiro traps Adam in a coffin buried underground in Japan. Nathan decides to expose them to the world in a press conference, revealing he has the ability to fly. This brings about another dystopia in which people with abilities are hunted and imprisoned. Mohinder’s research allows ordinary people to gain superhuman abilities. The world becomes chaotic. Ando kills Hiro with red lightning. Peter becomes a terrorist. Claire joins Pinehearst and tries to kill Peter. Peter decides to stop this timeline from existing by time travelling back to where Nathan outs them.
The thirteenth timeline begins with Future Peter shooting Nathan. That’s hardly the only alteration, however. He also puts Present Peter in Jesse’s body, takes Matt to an African desert, and inadvertently allows Sylar to take Claire’s ability. Now immortal, Sylar slaughters several Company members (including Bob), and is only disabled by Elle’s massive electricity release, which has the secondary effect of knocking out the power grid and releasing the prisoners. Pinehearst takes advantage of the events to try to seize control. When Angela has a prophetic dream about villains killing everyone, with Sylar as her only ally, she decides to make a few changes.
The fourteenth timeline is actually created before this, as Hiro travels to the future to witness Ando killing him with red lightning. Hiro returns mistrustful of his friend as a result. This affects how they function as a team working against Daphne. This all occurs outside of America, however, and has no effect on the events influenced by Future Peter.
The fifteenth timeline is created as Angela tries to regain control. She sends Hiro and Ando to release Adam to try to keep him away from the villains she dreamed about. Adam is taken by Pinehearst, where his power is taken by Arthur, killing Adam while giving Arthur new life. Arthur thus becomes the principle villain where he otherwise would not. Future Peter tries to clean up the mess he made, and he takes Present Peter into the future. The world turns out pretty much the same as in the twelfth timeline, with the possible change of Sylar becoming an ordinary guy (Gabriel) taking care of his son, presumably mothered by Elle. Matt and Daphne are a couple, with a new daughter and Molly as their adopted daughter. Nathan is the president and is married to Tracy.
The sixteenth timeline is a result of Present Peter entering this future. He affects the way things go to a substantial degree. Future Peter is killed by Claire, who leads a team to hunt down Present Peter. He meets Gabriel and gains Gabriel’s power of learning how things work. A battle takes place in Gabriel’s house, leading to the death of his son. Gabriel literally goes nuclear, destroys the city, and kills a lot of people. Peter is captured by Pinehearst, and Claire starts to torture him, but she is stopped by Nathan. Peter loses control of Gabriel’s ability, kills Nathan, and then he returns to the present.
The seventeenth timeline is caused by both Peter and Matt, who had a prophetic dream of the future Peter went to. They fight against Pinehearst as Arthur vies for power. Arthur steals all of Peter’s abilities. Matt’s conviction that he and Daphne will get together causes him to come on too strong, keeping them from having the kind of relationship he hopes for. Arthur attacks Hiro, who mentally regresses into a young boy. Hiro follows Isaac’s comic book instructions to save Claire from Sylar and Elle, and takes Claire back to 1991 to keep the light safe.
“Heroes change the world, not diapers.”
–Hiro, episode “Cold Snap”
–Hiro, episode “Cold Snap”
The eighteenth timeline is created as Claire and Hiro interact with their respective families in the past. Claire helps out her mother with babysitting herself, and she convinces Noah to not let her younger self receive the light from the Company. Hiro serves his dying mother waffles, and reveals who he really is. She heals him, and he convinces her to give him the light. Presumably, they return and help save the world. We don’t know for sure because…
A nineteenth timeline is created when Arthur goes back to 1991, steals the light from Hiro along with his power, and takes Claire back to the present, leaving Hiro stranded in a foreign country in a foreign time. He attempts to destroy the formula, but is caught by his father. We don’t know what becomes of him. Everyone in the present continues to fight against Pinehearst. Ando turns into a human battery. He supercharges Daphne, giving her the power to run faster than light and thus travel through time. (Sort of makes sense if you ignore physics.)
This causes the brief twentieth timeline consisting of Daphne observing herself just a few seconds ago. It’s more of a trial run time travel experiment than a serious alteration. The serious alteration comes later, when she travels back to 1991 to save Hiro.
The twenty-first timeline has Daphne bringing Hiro back to the present. The two hunt down the formula as it exists in the present, and Hiro destroys it, keeping Tracy from being able to misuse it. Hiro’s power is eventually restored by Baby Matt Parkman, but he can’t control it to the same degree he once could. Mohinder is murdered by Samuel. Dying of a brain tumor, Hiro loses control and accidentally time travels fourteen years ago (1993?) to a carnival he, Ando, and Kimiko went to as kids.
The twenty-second timeline has Hiro wandering around the carnival in the past. Hiro is careful not to do anything that could change the future. Presumably, he bides his time until he returns. As luck would have it, present day Lydia indicates to Samuel that he should meet Hiro in the past. Samuel gets one of his fellow carnies to transport him to the past, thus creating another timeline.
The twenty-third timeline is crafted by Samuel as he tries to put Hiro under his spell of charisma. He asks Hiro what he’d change if he could. Hiro tells him he’d stop a Slushy accident from ruining Ando and Kimiko’s relationship. Samuel shoves him in the way of the Slushy, and Hiro returns to the present to find that Ando and Kimiko are now engaged. Hiro later tries to save a suicidal coworker, who lost his job after he got drunk decided to photocopy his butt.
“Now is not a good time to photocopy your butt / and staple it to your boss’ face / oh no…”
–Your Horoscope for Today, by Weird Al
–Your Horoscope for Today, by Weird Al
Hiro alters the timelines forty-six times trying to save this yahoo, making the timeline count up to sixty-nine by the time he throws in the towel and just convinces the guy to get a different job. As those are all connected, we don’t see all of them, and it’s just plain silly, I’m just going to call this the twenty-fourth (+45) timeline. As one of his last acts, Hiro decides to save his lost love Charlie, and travels back in time to save her.
This twenty-fifth (+45) timeline is essentially the same as the fourth timeline, with the exception of past events that have since been altered. Hiro talks to a young boy about being a hero, and the boy shares some cowboy mythology to add to the geekdom. Hiro is soon joined by Samuel, creating a twenty-sixth (+45) timeline.
Adam: “As long as you saved [Hiro’s] girlfriend, you could kill some more, willy-nilly.”
–Hiro’s dream, episode “Pass/Fail”
–Hiro’s dream, episode “Pass/Fail”
The twenty-sixth (+45) timeline has Hiro trying to save Charlie by making a deal with Sylar. Sylar agrees to fix Charlie and then leave her alone, and in exchange Hiro will tell him how he dies. Hiro cheats him, says that Sylar will “die alone”, and quickly gets away. Now that Sylar doesn’t kill Charlie, there is a paradox in that Hiro’s younger self will not travel five months into the past, and he and Charlie will not fall in love, thereby removing the motivation for Hiro to save her in the first place. So, Hiro appears to his younger self, pretending to be the Future Hiro from the third timeline (who doesn’t exist anymore), and gives him the instructions to go back in time and get to know Charlie, which pushes our Hiro into a twenty-seventh (+45) timeline.
The twenty-seventh (+45) timeline is pretty much the same as the twenty-fourth (+45) timeline, especially since Samuel steals away Charlie immediately after Hiro saves her. Samuel holds her captive, and blackmails Hiro into time traveling back to Mohinder’s death scene to rescue a film before Mohinder destroys it. Hiro goes once to observe, creating a twenty-eighth (+45) timeline, and then travels again and acts, creating a twenty-ninth (+45) timeline.
In the twenty-ninth (+45) timeline, Hiro goes back before Samuel shows up, fits Mohinder with a bullet-proof vest, and also replaces the film. Samuel shows up, strikes Mohinder with a rock at high-velocity, and storms off much the same as in the previous timeline. To keep Mohinder from interfering for the next few weeks, Hiro drops Mohinder in a mental institution. As an additional effect from Hiro’s creation of the twenty-sixth (+45) timeline, Sylar now obsesses over the knowledge that he will die alone. This drives him to seek out human connection – in his psychopathic rapey sort of way.
So, there we are. Twenty-nine timelines or seventy-four if you count forty-five instances of butt photocopying. You have to give Heroes credit for not shying away from the confusing time travel element. And it is confusing! I actually think I understand The Time Traveler’s Wife’s nonlinear causal loop better than Heroes’ myriad timelines. Well, I did my best to keep this guide accurate.